United Nations peacekeepers in Haiti fathered and left behind hundreds of children, researchers found in a newly released academic study, leaving mothers struggling with stigma, poverty and single parenthood after the men departed the country.
While the U.N. has acknowledged numerous instances of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers in Haiti and elsewhere, the study on Haitian victims went further in documenting the scope of the problem in that country — the Western Hemisphere’s poorest — than had been previously known.
“Girls as young as 11 were sexually abused and impregnated” by peacekeepers, who were stationed in Haiti from 2004 to 2017, and some of the women were later “left in misery” to raise their children alone, according to the study by two academic researchers.
“They put a few coins in your hands to drop a baby in you,” one Haitian was quoted as saying by the researchers, whose work was published on Tuesday by the Conversation, an academic website supported by a consortium of universities.
The study, based on interviews with 2,500 Haitians who lived near peacekeeper bases in the summer of 2017, depicts a trail of abuse and exploitation left by some of the soldiers and civilians who served in the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti, known as Minustah, an acronym for its name in French.
The resulting children are known as “petits minustahs.”
The new study, by Sabine Lee, a history professor at the University of Birmingham, and Susan Bartels, a clinician scientist at Queen’s University in Ontario, is the latest to document sexual misconduct by international peacekeeping forces, including those stationed in Mozambique, Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
Of the people interviewed by the authors, 265 told of children fathered by members of the peacekeeping force, who came from at least 13 countries but mostly Uruguay and Brazil, according to a chart in the study.
“That 10% of those interviewed mentioned such children highlights just how common such stories really are,” they wrote. They noted that over the years, news organizations had reported anecdotal cases in Haiti in which “minors were offered food and small amounts of cash to have sex with U.N. personnel.”
While some mothers told the researchers of sexual violence by U.N. personnel, most of the stories recounted subtler forms of coercion, with peacekeepers trading small amounts of money or food for sex with women and girls who were often desperately poor. In other instances, women and their relatives described consensual relationships that ended when the peacekeepers left Haiti.
The authors said Haitians residing in communities around 10 U.N. bases had been asked “what it’s like to be a woman or a girl living in a community that hosts a peacekeeping mission.” The Haitians were not asked specifically about potential abuse or sexual relations with peacekeepers, according to the study, but participants raised the issue themselves.
“I started to talk to him, then he told me he loved me and I agreed to date him,” a woman was quoted as saying of her relationship several years earlier with a peacekeeper. “Three months later, I was pregnant, and in September he was sent to his country.” She added that she could not pay the fees to send her son to school.